Toronto taxi drivers have voted in favour of a job action that could mean a strike as soon as mid-August.
The cabbies say the city is moving too slowly to enforce regulations for Uber drivers that came into effect in July.
Paul Sekhon of the United Taxi Workers Association of the GTA said the group voted unanimously Thursday for a job action, but the time, place and type of action is still to be determined.
Neil Shorey, assistant general manager of City Taxi Toronto, described the job action as “imminent.” It could be a protest or even a formal strike, he said.
“It’s not like we’re breaking the rules or we’re animals,” Sekhon said. “We might look like we’re aggressive or radical people but we’re actually just standing up for our rights . . . We’re not going to inconvenience the public. We just want our voices heard like any other industry.”
The drivers say Toronto is working too slowly to enforce city bylaws that created a new Private Transportation Company licensing category for companies such as Uber. The bylaws, which came into effect July 15, require UberX drivers to have the same level of insurance as taxis, with a minimum of $2-million liability, and to pay $0.30 to the city per ride.
They must also have a “sign, decal emblem, symbol or number” displaying the logo or name of the company in the vehicle. Both taxis and PTC vehicles must undergo regular inspections as part of the bylaws.
Licensing and standards executive director Tracey Cook told the Star last month that the application process would take “a number of weeks at least, due to volume.”
The taxi association threatened to strike in February when Toronto hosted the NBA All-Star Game, but called off its plans. In December, hundreds of cab drivers shut down Queen St. and Bay St. to protest the city’s failure to regulate UberX.
“We learned a lot from the first work stoppage,” said Shorey, referring to the December protest. “We need to take extraordinary steps this time around to protect the public from undo harm or inconvenience. Our actions will be more targeted this time around.”
The association represents 3,500 taxi drivers, including many who work for some of Toronto’s bigger companies. They were represented at the meeting Thursday by more than 60 members, who voted unanimously in favour of the action, according to Sekhon.
“We’re still following the current bylaws and we’re still getting penalized for every small little thing . . . which is fine because that’s the law,” said Sekhon.
“When somebody can’t comply with those rules they should be fined as with any law in Canada. The same should apply to (Uber). Just because they have money shouldn’t make them superior in a first-class country like this,” he said.
Susie Heath, a spokesperson for Uber Canada, said the company has been working to comply with Toronto’s new bylaw over the past two months.
“We have applied for our PTC licence and look forward to receiving it from the City of Toronto soon. The city has a phased application process and we expect to fulfil each phase as it becomes available,” she said in a statement.
There are approximately 5,000 licences for taxis in Toronto.
The Toronto Taxi Alliance, which represents various sectors of the cab industry including drivers, agents and fleet garage employees, opposes a strike. Yet it, too, is critical of the city’s enforcement of rules for UberX drivers.
“We do not support any illegal action or anything that is disruptive to downtown. It doesn’t help the industry, it only upsets Torontonians and we wish the drivers would not do it,” said executive director Rita Smith. “We understand the drivers’ frustration. It’s real. Uber’s been operating illegally for three years and even with a deadline of July 15, they’re still not paying.”
Smith said the city informed the alliance on July 28 that staff were still reviewing Uber’s application as a private transportation company.
“Uber’s been given an unofficial extension, I guess. What was the point of the July 15 deadline and what is the repercussion if they’re not ready in August or not ready in September? This just goes on and on,” she said.
Uber bylaws: Regulations as of July 15
On May 3, Toronto city council voted to create a new Private Transportation Company (PTC) licensing category that allows Uber and similar companies to operate legally in Toronto, while loosening restrictions on the traditional taxi industry. While the bylaw came into effect July 15, the city is still reviewing Uber’s PTC application, delaying some of the following regulations from being enforced:
Private Transportation Companies must obtain the same amount of insurance as traditional taxis, with a minimum of $2 million liability. A PTC must also provide confirmation that the insurance company has been advised the driver intends to carry paying passengers. The province approved Uber’s plan with Intact Insurance in early July.
Vehicles of PTCs such as Uber, as well as the taxi industry, must undergo regular inspections. Drivers must be screened by the city before they are approved for a new class of licence.
PTC-licensed vehicles must display a “sign, decal emblem, symbol or number” showing the company’s name or logo.
Uber must charge an additional “city fee” of $0.30 per trip, which is remitted to the City of Toronto. It must also charge a minimum fare of $3.25, but can allow for “surge pricing” during peak hours and busier service occasions. Taxis can use “surge pricing” only for rides booked through an app.
Cab drivers no longer have to take city-run training programs or CPR and first-aid training.
With files from Betsy Powell
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